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Despite closures and cancellations across all sectors due to the COVID-19, it’s good news in Western Australia with the start the 2020 Motorsport Australia WA Rally Championship this weekend. The first rally of the WA State Championship is the Truck Wholesale WA Bakers Hill Sprint, and sees a full entry list, capped at 40 competitors, that includes eight rookie drivers, one with a famous rally roots, and nine rookie co-drivers. Bakers Hill consists of two stages run twice in one direction and twice in reverse, to a total of 58.2 competitive kilometres. Rally Sprint regulations state that each stage is no longer than 8 kilometres in length. Held at Winvale Park Complex, a 1,000-acre property that also grows canola, Bakers Hill is about 70 kilometres east of Perth in the Shire of Northam. The property was developed to host rally cars in 1991 by the Challis family and used in the mid-90s for testing by World Rally Championship teams including legends drivers Tommi Makinen, Carlos Sainz, Petter Solberg, the late Colin McRae and his Perth-based brother Alister McRae. The sixteen-year-old son of Alister, Max McRae, is making his gravel rally debut sitting beside 2016 and 2017 Australian Rally Championship co-driver Bill Hayes who’ll be calling pace notes in their 2WD Ford Fiesta ST150. “I’m really excited and can’t wait for the rally,” said McRae who just got his Drivers Learner’s Permit about three weeks ago. “But what I’m looking to gain is seat-time in the car and experience. “There’ll always be pressure carrying the McRae name but at the moment I’m just focussed on working as hard as I can to learn as much as I can.” McRae, a first-year apprentice at a specialist service centre for European cars, said that his goal this year is to compete and finish all WA State Championship rallies.

Debutante Max McRae with his father Alister, and grandfather Jimmy.

Competitors to watch include reigning champions John O’Dowd and Toni Feaver in their powerful WRC2 spec Truck Wholesale WA Skoda Fabia R5; Ben Searcy and James Marquet in their Swift Motorsport Mitsubishi Evo 9; Stephen Oxley with co-driver Steph Esterbauer in their CASA Security Subaru WRX STI; and reigning 2WD champions Razvan and Iona Vlad in their MAXYRally.com.au Ford Fiesta. Carl Rattenbury is moving up from Clubman Cup to the 2WD Championship and this will be his first event using pace notes. O’Dowd is clearly champing at the bit and raring to get behind the wheel. “I’m very happy we have a championship, hats off to everyone for their efforts to get it up and running,” O’Dowd said. “We did a recce yesterday and the stages look good. We’re happy with the car which we tested last weekend, and we’re using a new tyre this year that’s the control tyre for the national championship – and before you ask, I have no idea if the ARC will run this year or not. I’m hoping it will and that we can compete in it.” Tolley Challis, owner of Winvale Park Complex said that developing the rally stages has been a labour of love that his late father started. “The downtime during Covid-19 has allowed us to make a few new roads – we’ve added about 10 kilometres of new stages that have everything to challenge drivers from tight and technical sections or long fast straights,” Challis said. Supervising Clerk of Course Wendy Walker said it was great to see rookies enter the first rally of the year as well as new officials. “Bakers Hill is a training ground for new officials including a new clerk of course, stage commanders and officials, as well as other officials who are stepping up into more responsible roles.” Due to social distancing rules, organisers are not encouraging spectators. Competitors in the WA Truck Wholesale will be awarded half the usual championship points due to the shorter competition distance. For results, visit www.rallywa.com
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